'We're trying to make a difference'

'We're trying to make a difference'

CHAMPAIGN – Jason Franklin's Centennial High School statistics students didn't duck controversy when picking topics for their final projects.

One team analyzed the district's financial condition. Another polled students about Chief Illiniwek. Several teams picked consumer-based topics and discovered that concerns about safety or health played only a small role in the products people pick.

"We wanted something that would make an impact because we're trying to make a difference, so we brainstormed and decided to look at the budget," said Shanna Khan. She and teammates Aaron Wiener and Ryan Cullen decided to dig into the district's budget troubles, a $4 million to $5 million deficit discovered last summer.

They surveyed teachers to find out how much they knew about district budgets and found the answer was, not much information's getting out. "The staff wants to be more informed," said Aaron who, like Shanna, will attend the University of Illinois.

Team members interviewed current and former business managers, school board members, administrators; they crunched numbers and realized they'd picked a complex topic. "We thought we'd find a problem with expenses, but it's lots of things, local, state and national," Aaron said.

"Our district had $8.5 million in the education fund in 2000, and by the end of 2004, only $1.5 million was left," said Ryan, who's going to Illinois State University.

"There was no frivolous spending," Aaron said. "It was necessary for education quality."

Team members also charted administration salaries in several area districts and discovered Champaign's are in line with other districts when size is factored into the equation. They will present their results to classmates, and they hope to present them to district officials.

Results of the Chief Illiniwek team's work mirrored polls conducted on the UI campus. Members asked Centennial students if they think the Chief represents racial discrimination.

"A third of the students didn't support the Chief and two-thirds did," said Matt Decker, who's also headed to ISU. "Fewer teachers supported the Chief. It also depended on how long they'd lived here. People who've lived here longer tended to support the Chief more." Matt's partners were UI-bound Jessica Bushman and Elizabeth Berry, one of a handful of juniors in Franklin's class.

Elaine Bourne and teammates Chris Krass and Jinnie Kim, both juniors, surveyed students at the school about classroom seating preferences.

"Teachers arrange seating different ways and we wanted to see what worked best," said Elaine, a future Washington University student. "Answers differed a lot. Students liked rows better than teachers. It was close on horseshoe arrangements. Students don't like clusters but teachers do."

"This gives you good experience handling a research project," Chris said. "It's not like a regular math class," Jinnie said. "It's all about computers and programs."

"The projects teach them things they can't learn from a text," Franklin said. "They learn to interact with professionals and to ask appropriate questions. They end up with something to be proud of, something done with a purpose, not just for a good grade, something people can use."

Centennial Principal Judy Wiegand said last year, she suggested a topic for one team to explore, students' involvement in extracurricular activities. "The results help us plan our overall school program," said Wiegand, who attends many of the presentations.

Sections (2):News, Local
Categories (2):News, Other